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Smoke Signals Film Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 1019 words Published: 4th Sep 2017

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Rising From the Ashes: A Tale of the Boys of Fire

The movie Smoke Signals (Directed by Chris Eyre) tells the story of two boys, Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire, and their quest to get Arnold Joseph’s (Victor’s father) ashes from Phoenix, Arizona. But it’s really a story about life, death, and rebirth; life in the birth of the boys and their coming of age, death in the collection of Arnold’s ashes, and the rebirths they both undergo along the journey. Thomas makes the statement that he and Victor are “born of fire and ash”; they are both born of fire and ash, and reborn throughout the movie through both fire and ash.

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Thomas being thrown from the burning house gives the allusion that he was born from flames. The baby Thomas being flung from the flames is a direct allusion to the phoenix myth, he was reborn when he flew from the flames. The fact that Victor’s father caused the fire in the first place and then saved Thomas also shows a rebirth of Arnold, because he saved Thomas out of guilt for starting the fire that killed Thomas’ parents in the first place. Arnold catching Thomas is the only reason the child survives, giving Arnold a get out of jail free card for starting the fire; only Arnold can’t let it go and spends the rest of his life beating himself (as well as his wife and child) up about starting that fire all those years ago.

Thomas tells stories about Arnold and everyone else on the reservation throughout the movie which are not necessarily true, but he believes every word of them. These stories almost always revert back to Arnold, the man who saved his life as an infant. Thomas idolizes Arnold as his savior, having gone through his initial rebirth with him as his savior. Thomas’ final rebirth comes when Victor gives him part of Arnold’s ashes. Victor has finally realized that Thomas’ love for his father is a connection they share for the same reason; Arnold saved them both from the fire.

Victor is reborn when he collects his father’s ashes from Phoenix (the name being an obvious allegorical reference to the tale of the phoenix), Arizona. Victor can’t afford the trip to collect his father, so Thomas convinces Victor to let him come along in exchange for paying both of their ways to Phoenix. Throughout the trip, Thomas recollects stories of Arnold, all of which cast him as the hero and not as the villain Victor sees him as, however, each time Thomas tells one of his stories, Victor becomes angry and tells him to “just shut up.” Victor wants to hold onto the idea of his father as the bad guy, the one who beat him and his mother up and ran off when he was only a child, instead of the man who ran back into the burning building to save him (which he learns from his father’s neighbor while at the trailer park collecting Arnold’s ashes and possessions). Once Victor is finally convinced to go into his father’s trailer to check for belongings that he may want, he begins the ritual of letting go, cutting his hair to signify the loss of a loved one.

Another rebirth Victor goes through during the collection of his father’s ashes is when he is running for help after the wreck and collapses just as he reaches it. He has just run all night in boots, which were nt intended to be running shoes, and is nearly dead from exhaustion when he finally makes it to safety; but throughout his run he remembers the past and the things he has been told (the truth) about his father and the man he truly was. As he hits the ground he looks up in his feverish and nearly dead state to see his father standing over him, extending a hand to save him again (only this time it isn’t his father saving him, it’s a construction worker he fell to the ground in front of). When Victor comes to in the hospital, he is a changed man. He has been reborn into a calmer, happier person, even allowing Thomas to tell his stories the whole way back home to the reservation without once correcting him or telling him to shut up.

In the final scenes of the movie, Victor is spreading his father’s ashes in the river (Thomas had just given him the analogy of his father rising up as a salmon by his ashes being released in this way) and as he scatters the ashes, he screams; Victor is finally letting go of all the pent up emotions. All of his hurt feelings, anger, and resentment are released in the battle cry he issues as he spreads his father’s ashes. He has been once again reborn from his father’s ashes, just as a phoenix would. This final rebirth through ash is also given over to fire because as Victor is spreading Arnold’s ashes, Arnold’s neighbor from the trailer park, the one who found him, sets fire to his trailer in order to cleanse and release Arnold’s spirit.

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This movie is a coming of age tale about to young men who share the common bond of a savior, though neither finds out until the end. Throughout the movie, the phoenix story is heavily referenced, from the burning building and the boys being saved from it in the beginning, to Arnold’s trailer being burned down, to the final scene when Victor is spreading Arnold’s ashes in the river. These boys have to take this journey to discover not only who Arnold was, but who they are. Thomas is born of fire, being reborn in the first fire that Arnold not only accidentally started, but then saved him from. Victor is born of ash, the ashes of his father, which caused the journey in the first place which allowed him to learn who his father really was and what he had done for him. The boys left with the relationship one shares with an annoying kid sibling, but they return friends who share the common bond of Arnold and what he did to save them both.

Works Cited

Smoke Signals. Dir. Chris Eyre. Perf. Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Irene Bedard. Mirmax, 1998.



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